The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Action Override


12 June 2009| No Comments on The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3     by Sean Chavel


How badass are Denzel Washington and John Travolta… in other movies? I wouldn’t exactly call them badass in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 in which they are sticking to conventions that allow them to phone it in. These two have demonstrated blockbuster movie muscle so many times before but this time they have treated their roles as business as usual. Let me back up. In all fairness, these two demonstrate in a number of scenes why they are bonafide movie stars. But I do insist that while Washington can switch-hit, Travolta isn’t as versatile when it comes to playing a bad guy. Although if Tarantino is directing that would be a different story.

Washington gives us a by-the-numbers performance as a transit dispatcher and Travolta hams it up as a trigger-happy villain in this latest overcooked Tony Scott-directed suspense thriller in which the suspense is whether or not a train-car load of one-dimensional hostages will be spared or not. The city location is New York and the characters are New York stereotypes. Scott doesn’t bother to develop his background characters as far as to making them stereotypes. The hostages for the most case are a cluster of one-note ciphers.

“Pelham” overdoses though on its exhausting kineticism: endless circling shots, flash pans, hyper-zooms, slow-mo, shaky cam, shuddery frame speeds. Tony Scott, harking back to the ’80’s, became defined as the epitome MTV-style filmmaker of this generation adhering to the overkill formula of slicing-and-dicing. For some reason, Washington keeps working with this director (“Déjà Vu” and “Man on Fire” are recent partnerships) with increasingly diminishing returns. As for Travolta, his role is a contradictory character: a disgraced Wall Street guy who is brilliant with numbers but ultimately is a bonafide nutjob who wants a $10 million ransom. We never understand Ryder’s pathology when he speaks respectful of someone like Garber but hates the inhumanity of New York City as a whole.

Most of the screen time is devoted to an uneven mix of hot and cold repartee between Washington and Travolta, whom negotiate on opposite sides of a radio transmitter. The movie ultimately reaches a contrived showdown of two characters betraying their personalities, showing up at a place neither of them in their full senses would actually go. Use an alternate route, guys.

106 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” (1974); “Under Siege” (1992); “Man on Fire” (2004); “Déjà Vu” (2006).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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